Jeff Sessions and the War On Pot

medical marijuana pot

Given the daily headlines generated by this Administration–everything from porn star lawsuits and tariffs to the escalating exodus from the White House (Bill Maher opined that this is the largest rush to exit since the British burned it)– it may have escaped most people’s notice that various cabinet officials are making a valiant effort to take America back to the last century.

Nowhere is that effort more concerted than in Jeff Session’s Department of Justice.

Sessions has refused to enforce consent decrees with various police departments. He has rolled back anti-discrimination measures. He’s re-instituted civil forfeitures (one of the few measures uniformly condemned by civil libertarians, criminal justice experts, and politicians from both parties). His retrograde policies about immigration have led him to sue California for its sanctuary efforts. His “tough on crime” initiatives ignore 25 years of criminal justice research.

But it is his unrelenting insistence on reinvigorating the discredited War on Drugs that best illustrates his passion for returning us to the 1950s. So it will be interesting to see what eventually happens with a lawsuit first filed last November.

Alexis Bortell, along with her father and other plaintiffs, including former NFL player Marvin Washington, filed suit in the Southern District of New York against the attorney general as well as the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Agency….

Alexis, whose family moved to Colorado from Texas to take advantage of the state’s legalization of recreational and medical marijuana, had been suffering since she was 7 from a form of epilepsy that cannot be safely controlled with FDA-approved treatments and procedures, the lawsuit says.

As a result, she often had multiple seizures a day. “Nothing she tried worked,” the suit states. When her family finally tried a form of marijuana, the girl found “immediate relief from her seizures.”

“Since being on whole-plant medical Cannabis, Alexis has gone more than two years seizure-free,” the suit says.

Alexis won’t be able to return to her native Texas where she qualifies for free college, because she would be subject to arrest if she continued to use marijuana to control her seizures.

Unfortunately, in February, the Judge dismissed the claims, citing precedent.

The Second Circuit has already determined that Congress had a rational basis to classify marijuana as a Schedule I drug,” Hellerstein writes, “and any constitutional rigidity is overcome by granting the Attorney General, through a designated agent, the authority to reclassify a drug according to the evidence before it. … There can be no complaint of constitutional error when such a process is designed to provide a safety valve of this kind.”

However, Hellerstein immediately follows this conclusion with a paragraph suggesting that he is sympathetic to assertions that marijuana has medical uses.

“I emphasize that this decision is not on the merits of plaintiffs’ claim,” he points out. “Plaintiffs’ amended complaint, which I must accept as true for the purpose of this motion, claims that the use of medical marijuana has, quite literally, saved their lives, One plaintiff in this case, Alexis Bortell, suffers from intractable epilepsy, a severe seizure disorder that once caused her to experience multiple seizures every day. After years of searching for viable treatment options, Alexis began using medical marijuana. Since then, she has gone nearly three years without a single seizure.”

Alexis wasn’t the only plaintiff: she was joined by six-year-old Jagger Cotte, who treats with cannabis for Leigh Syndrome, a horrible, terminal neurological disorder; former NFL linebacker Marvin Washington, who makes cannabis-based products for head trauma; Iraq War veteran Jose Belen, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and was given the option of “opioids or nothing” from the Veterans Administration; and the Cannabis Cultural Association, a nonprofit concerned with racial disparities in drug policy enforcement.

All indications are that the dismissal will be appealed to the Second Circuit, and no matter who wins there, probably to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Jeff Session’s Justice Department will continue to ignore both the overwhelming consensus of research and the undeniable, abject failure of the 20th Century’s drug war.

In Trump’s America, of course, evidence and expertise are irrelevant.


[Originally published at on March 11, 2018]

Sheila Kennedy is a former high school English teacher, former lawyer, former Republican, former Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, former columnist for the Indianapolis Star, and former young person. She is currently an (increasingly cranky) old person, a Professor of Law and Public Policy at Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis, and Director of IUPUI’s Center for Civic Literacy. She writes for the Indianapolis Business Journal, PA Times, and the Indiana Word, and blogs at For those who are interested in more detail, links to an abbreviated CV and academic publications can be found on her blog, along with links to her books..


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